The defensive line rotation employed by Jim Schwartz has been one of the great strengths of this Philadelphia Eagles team over the last two years.
Between Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Chris Long, Michael Bennett and others, the Eagles have generally speaking had no problem rushing passers and preventing running backs from breaking off big runs against them. But this off-season could see a number of sweeping changes to this unit.
Jernigan’s option has been declined, Bennett wants more money and seems likely to move on, and Long could (but probably won’t) retire. Even if Long doesn’t retire, he’ll be another year older at 34. Graham just signed a three-year deal worth a guaranteed $27 million, but he’ll be 31 next season. Even if the Eagles did somehow manage to keep Bennett, he’d be 34, too. It’s clear the Birds need a young pass rusher to step up and become an impact player on this team.
Yes, the 2019 NFL Draft is loaded with defensive line help, and the Eagles could certainly land an impact player either at the EDGE or at tackle in free agency. But the forgotten man is the player the team drafted No. 14 overall in the 2017 Draft, a player who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury.
The Eagles desperately need a breakout season from Derek Barnett.
He started six games last year and tried to play the last two of them through his injury, but his play suffered and he ultimately ended up on IR. He recorded 2.5 sacks, 14 QB hurries and 11 QB hits before he went on injured reserve, and up to that point, PFF gave him a grade of 67.5, an above average score that was especially impressive given some of that grade came as he tried to grit through the pain.
In his brief career, Barnett has shown a knack for making the big play. His sack of Andrew Luck on 4th down with the Colts on the Eagles’ doorstep saved a key early-season victory last year.
In 2017, Barnett also came up with this monster sack of Case Keenum in the NFC Championship Game that ended a potential scoring drive and kick-started the rout.
And, of course, he recovered the fumble when Graham strip-sacked Tom Brady in the final minutes of Super Bowl 52.
Barnett’s rookie year was solid for a first-year player. He recorded five sacks in the regular season and then one more in the playoffs and was named to the NFL All-Rookie Team after the season. In three years at Tennessee, he had 32 sacks, including 13 in his junior year.
He has all the tools to be a edge player who consistently gets to the QB. His speed from the outside is just special.
Here, he just abused some poor fool against the Titans last year.
Derek Barnett has a sneaky skill set, bordering on unorthodox. But effective. When you get a QB hit off one of league's best in first game pic.twitter.com/oNB1V2jZre— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) September 11, 2017
That bull rush.
One should expect a breakout season for Barnett in Year No. 3, and it might have happened last year were it not for the injury. While the Eagles will certainly draft at least one defensive lineman at some point in the first three rounds, and it’s possible they could add an impact defensive lineman to replace Bennett via free agency, the best thing that could happen for the pass rush in 2019 is for Barnett to perform like the No. 14 overall pick in the draft.
Are you confident Derek Barnett will break out in 2019?
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